“What? Wait, you’re misunderstanding,” I said. “I have no idea what just happened.”
“Just keep it in mind, I do not interfere with the children’s personal lives. I am here to talk about what happened to you on the roof. How is your body?”
“There’s nothing to keep in mind, it’s not what you think,” I said with annoyance. “And I’m feeling mostly fine, in that there is no pain. But I can’t regain my stamina.”
“The stamina not recovering is a consequence of you overtaxing your body for an extended period of time during your enlightenment,” Ardos said as if he hadn’t heard the first part of my answer. “It’s a status effect that shouldn’t persist too long.”
I raised a brow. “Enlightenment?”
“Yes, it’s a state of extreme focus during which people make great progresses in a particular discipline, and it can happen to war and production classes alike... But yours clearly lasted longer than you could handle. I never heard of it happening to someone as young as you, but it has the merit of making the next step very clear.”
“And that is?”
“Raising your level. The truth is that you’re too weak. The simplest way to fix that would be for you to go to a relatively safe instant dungeon like the Undermine, until it’s no longer practical. Then you could move on to hunt creatures from the shallow fog.”
Following that last mention, there was an audible yelp, which caused both Ardos and I to look at Sarn who had been silent until now. The blunder and sudden amount of attention made his face take a bright shade of red.
“I-I should go, seeyoulateredward,” he blurted out before running away.
I blinked, then brought my thoughts back to the subject matter. Ardos’ plan made sense to me and definitely aligned with my objective of quickly gaining strength. Then again, there was no telling whether it would be interrupted or not.
“Alright,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
“Before all of that though,” he said as he crossed his arms, “you will need actual combat experience to fully comprehend and consolidate the results of your enlightenment.”
I groaned. “You really want me to join your training sessions, don’t you?”
“Real training is exactly what you need Edward. But you won’t spar with my other students. You will spar with me.”
“From what Royin saw, you have the Blade dancer class, and letting an inexperienced human blade dancer spar with anyone other than an accomplished fighter would be highly irresponsible. We’ll start whenever you are ready. The sooner the better, while the knowledge is still fresh in your mind.”
They were wrong, and while it was interesting to know that a skill tree could be a class for someone else, correcting them wasn’t important.
Ardos had thought of everything and in a way, it made me glad. It showed how much all of this mattered to him, and would avoid me unintentionally killing a kid during a spar.
He said he used to be part of an army, right? I thought. Then there probably shouldn’t be any need to worry... But if I really am a threat to trained kids, how true can it be that humans are considered “weak”?
“Did you run away from Nashran?”
The sudden question and serious tone of his voice made me wonder what expression was on this face. But my eyelid felt too heavy.
“I’m not from Nashran,” I said with exasperation. “And I’ve never even been there. Ardos, I thought we were past this stage already.”
If he was going to always worry about people being after me, I could see myself starting to avoid him.
I heard him moving through the room and, to my surprise, he sat down at the end of the bed.
“This is serious Edward,” he said. “ And it’s related to your safety, not mine. Blade dancing is the specialty of the Pearl and its clans, and everybody knows that they don’t allow their disciples to just leave. If you came from there, I understand that you want to keep it a secret... But I need to know, so that we can keep you safe.”
“Does every blade dancer come from Nashran?” I bluntly asked.
“...No,” he hesitantly said. “Like every class it can appear anywhere, though at a much reduced rate.”
“Will people from Nashran attack me as soon as they realize I am a blade dancer?”
“Assuming you didn’t get your class there, no. But they will probably try to make you join the clan they belong to.”
“Then there is no need to worry, because I really am not from there.” I concluded.
He was silent for a moment, after which he said, “Very well, I shall trust you.”
Probably deciding it was time to let me rest, he stood and went for the door.
“Ardos,” I called.
“Are you a father? You act like one.” I said.
Which made me truly uncomfortable, since I was an adult myself. But I had a feeling that telling him something in the vein of “I am not your kid”, or “don’t treat me like a child”, would be the best way for him to see me as such.
“I have a daughter,” he said. “She lives in this temple and I was planning on having you two meet each other... But to be honest, seeing how Tamie left the room earli-”
He chuckled and opened the door.
“Ah, you should also leave the room as soon as possible, this is one of cooks’ and you being here is probably a bother to them... But something tells me you would not like me carrying you to your room, am I wrong?”
I tried my best to contain my outrage when I opened my eye and asked, “Are you serious?”
He simply laughed as he left.
Now all alone and fully awake, I just laid in the bed and let my mind wander.
Either because the children had conjured them to the forefront of my mind, or due to Ardos’ behavior, I couldn’t help but think of my family.
The day before yesterday I was having dinner with them and played with my granddaughter. Now I was planing to go monster hunting. It would be an euphemism to say that it was a drastic change.
How are they doing? I wondered. Are they eating well?
Of course, it was possible that in this world the flow of time was different... And there was the fact that I had spent an unknown amount of time as a soul. Maybe years had passed on Earth, maybe decades.
Did the baby become as successful as the brats wished? Did they give her siblings?
Maybe centuries. Maybe they were long dead and gone, and the only traces of their existence were among the memories of someone who was also long dead... Memories of a memory.
Seeking a distraction to these depressing thoughts, I looked around the room and found something that immediately caught my attention.
My stamina was still unable to regenerate, but I managed to stand up. Huffing and puffing, I then used the walls and furnitures as supports to reach a shelf on the other side of the room. There, I stood in front of the mirror placed on it.
I hadn’t seen my own self yet, and not even wondered how strange it was for me to not even try to. The feeling of relief that washed over me as I studied my reflection made me realize that, in the back of my mind, I had been scared of seeing a stranger. That and the lump in my throat.
At the center of a mane of curled black hair, was a youthful version of the face of my father and the brown eye and nose of my mother. Ears slightly prominent, like my older brother and maternal grandfather. Bushy eyebrows that came out of nowhere and my family used to lovingly tease.
They had all died during the worst days of my life, but now my trembling hands could reach to touch and feel them. I was my younger self, and thanks to that, I was reminded that the dead were not gone. Not really.
It didn’t matter how far I was from home. It didn’t matter how long it had been. I was alive, and through me they all lived.